Today, Jackie Ionescu turns 87. Happy Birthday, Professor!

Ion V. Ionescu was born on May 2, 1936, in Rudna (Timiș county) (“V.”, to be distinguished from Ion Ionescu, former striker of the ’67 champion Rapid).

He played football, without playing in the first division. He started with Poli’s children, when he was only 9 years old, in 1945, the year of the end of World War II. He stayed at Poli for a decade, going through all the youth centre stages, playing right midfielder in the WM system, and even catching a game for the senior team, in a friendly against UTA Red Flames in 1954, when he scored against the legendary Petschowski! As it was difficult to impose himself in the valuable team that the Timisoara students had at that time, in 1955 he left for Progresul Sibiu, then playing for two clubs in the capital, Știința (later Sportul Studențesc) and Victoria (no connection with the group of the same name, in the 80’s). At only 24 years old, in 1960, due to an injury, he retired.

As he had just graduated from the National Academy of Physical Education, specialising in Football, in Bucharest, he returned to Timisoara and became a coach. At Știința, Poli’s then name. Directly second in the senior team, in D1, with Eugen Mladin as head coach! At only 24 years old! At the same time, he was also appointed assistant at the Faculty of Physical Education in Timișoara, specialising in football, where he worked, with some interruptions, until 2006, when he retired with the title of university professor.

In 1961 he moved to the Științei’s children’s and juniors’ centre, and for a short period he was also, in parallel and for the first time, head coach of the senior team in Variaș and of Gloria Timișoara in the lower echelons. In 1964 he returned as assistant coach at Știința, and in 1966 he made his debut as head coach at Poli (the old name had been changed back). He was only 30 years old, and the former great player Nicolae Reuter was his assistant. After 11 games, Ionescu was promoted to second, and at the end of the season the team was relegated to B.

In 1967 he left Poli, playing for Progresul and CFR in Timisoara. He then became assistant to the famous Nicolae Dumitrescu III in the senior team at UTA, then still a great team. In that season, 1971/72, “Bătrâna Doamna” finished second in Division A and qualified for the quarter-finals of the first edition of C3, which was called UEFA Cup.

In 1972 he returned to Poli as the main coach of the big team. He was 36 years old. The white-violet had fallen out of the elite five years earlier and had failed to win promotion. They would succeed now, in the very first year of B with I. V. Ionescu as the manager, after a famous 1-0 win over FC Bihor, a match in which the great stadium of Timișoara was full. It was then that the foundations of the “Jackie legend” were laid. After one more season, in 1974, he reached the Romanian Cup final, but lost to Jiului. That year he was second in Romania’s student national team, which won the World University Championship in France. The following year he left Poli, after having built a team that would become emblematic for the history of Timisoara football.

He stays in the western area, at Jiul Petroșani, CFR Timișoara, UTA, FCM Reșița. He coached the Arad team for almost the entire season of sad memories that would lead, in 1979, to the first relegation to B in the history of UTA. He was then replaced after the 30th round, at a time when the red-and-whites were in 12th place out of 18.

He returned to Poli in 1979 and a second peak period followed. He won the Romanian Cup that very season, after the final against Steaua. Then comes the participation in the Cup Winners’ Cup and is eliminated Celtic. The following year they qualify for the Romanian Cup final again. He leaves Poli, but will return in 1982. Leaves again after a short time, the team being relegated at the end of that season, which “Jackie” does not finish on the bench.

He coaches Corvinul, at a time when the Hunedorenes were retaining some of the strength Mircea Lucescu had given them. In that season, 1985/86, the Corvini would impose the famous “norm” of three goals per home game. In 1986 he returned to Poli, who had just fallen out of A and re-promoted them.

The famous victory over Dinamo followed on 8 November 1987.

In 1989, the very year that would bring the Revolution, he had his first experience as a technician in the extra-Carpathian area. In the capital, at Sportul Studențesc, which was no longer the fantastic team of Gheorghe Hagi and… Nicu Ceaușescu. He returned to Corvinul, but left after a monster scandal, refusing to concede the match against Universitatea Craiova. He returns, again, to Poli. He manages a 5th place finish in Division A, tied on points with 3rd place, and again qualifies the team for the Romanian Cup final, losing on penalties to Stele. He takes part in the UEFA Cup, where he faces the biggest name in world interclub football, Real Madrid: 1-1 in Timisoara, 0-4 at the Santiago Bernabeu. Basically, this will be the last performance in the club’s history.

So he has had no less than… six terms at the helm of Poli. And he is the most successful coach in the history of the club!

In 2002 he was the coach of the team sponsored by UPT, CSU Politehnica. This club would merge that year with AEK Bucharest, giving birth to Politehnica AEK, where he would later be a member of the club’s management.

CSU Politehnica, division C, was the last team coached. Significantly, the team played on the Știința field, in the courtyard of the Faculty of Mechanics, where, 57 years ago, in distant 1945, the Politehnica children had started their activity.

“As my whole career shows, my professional credo has been to play football, to play professionally, regardless of the level of competition. Basically, I coached at all competitive levels,” he told us several years ago.

He launched players such as Păltinișanu, Jivan, M. Giuchici, Coraș, Duckadam, Iosif Rotariu, Stoicov, S. Vlaicu, Hanganu, C. Liță and Luțu. But the list is much longer: around (according to his statistics) 150 players promoted to Division A!!!

Analytical spirit, firm and demanding, with a sharp sense of humour. Around him, nothing can remain mediocre. Specialist in player discovery and theorizing the game of football. He is one of the greatest experts Romania has ever had on football methodology and tactics. And he is a great opponent of military-ministerial football.

The author of numerous football books (both essays and books on the subject), professor at faculties of physical education and sport, columnist for various publications, permanent guest on television and radio, a man of great charisma, intellectual breadth and cultural breath, “Jackie” has long since become “The Professor”.

“And the Flags will be raised, and the Anthems will be sung, at the 17th World Cup in Korea and Japan. And the bearded men of globalization, there in the cool of their bunkers in the great deep, will turn down the International a little, turn on the TVs and see Zidane, Beckham, Okocha, Solari, Hierro, Inzaghi or Figo murmuring the holy music of their country! The country of each of them. This is because the 2002 World Cup will first and foremost be a competition of nations and states! And Jaques Chirac, if France wins, and Juan Carlos, if Spain wins! Perhaps even Queen Elizabeth, if England wins! Because that’s football, because that’s life. Since World and Earth: each to his Mother!”. Words written by I. V. Ionescu, a perfect patriot, in the special magazine “Mondial 2002”, published by “King Football”.

The greatest sports journalist Romania has ever had, Ioan Chirilă, wrote about Ion V. Ionescu: “Jackie could never breathe away from Poli… He was like a fish, and Timișoara was his water”.

Excerpt from the book “Politehnica Timișoara – Football and Handball”, by Octavian Stăncioiu and Viorel Jurcuț, published by Politehnica Publishing House, on 4 December 2021, on the occasion of the Centenary of the Politehnica Timișoara Sports Society.